Royal Cinque Ports, or Deal as it is more commonly known, was founded in February 1892. Henry Hunter, Deal’s first green keeper was appointed shortly afterwards and three months later, a nine-hole course was ready for play. A second nine was soon added.
The First and Second World Wars did their level best to obliterate the links, but James Braid restored the course and it reopened in 1919. Sir Guy Campbell later performed a similar role and once again, in 1946, the course reopened. Donald Steel was engaged in an advisory capacity at Royal Cinque Ports. His company is renowned for making sympathetic changes to traditional links courses. But it was Master Greenkeeper and course consultant Gordon Irvine, who appeared on the award-winning BBC programme Coast, who spearheaded the recent transformation of Deal, returning the course once more to a world-class championship links.
Deal is an absolute brute of a links course. Its back nine, or rather the last seven holes, are relentless, invariably playing directly into the teeth of the prevailing south westerly wind. The layout is stark and cheerless – only the sandhills and wild dune grasses provide this narrow out-and-back layout with any real definition. You can expect tight and hanging lies from the fairways, making stances awkward. Let’s make no bones about it – this is a tough course. Make your score on the front nine, otherwise Deal can make even the very best golfers look like weekend duffers.
In 1909, J. H. Taylor – one of the Great Triumvirate – proudly won the first Open ever played at Royal Cinque Ports. The Open returned to Deal in 1920 and made Walter Hagen look decidedly useless. In the lead-up to the Open, Hagen had boasted that he was unbeatable. He eventually ended up in 55th place! The real story behind the 1920 Open focused on two Brits, Abe Mitchell and George Duncan. It’s a story that is beautifully documented by Bernard Darwin in his book Golf Between Two Wars.
In those days, the Open was played over two days with 36 holes played each day. After the first day, Mitchell had a six shot lead over his closest pursuer; Duncan was even further adrift, a massive 13 strokes behind. The first round of the final day saw Duncan card a 71 while Mitchell could only manage an 84. Darwin wrote: “His lead had vanished like a puff of smoke”. In the final afternoon round, Duncan consolidated his 71 with a 72, Mitchell could only manage a 76. Darwin’s moral of this story is “that the man to back on the last day of a championship is he who gets his blow in first”.
1920 was the last Open to be held at Deal, despite the fact that it was planned to return in 1949, but sadly the sea breached its defences and flooded the course forcing the 1949 Open to be played at Royal St George's.
We’ll let Darwin close this passage: “Golf at Deal is very good indeed – fine, straight-ahead, long hitting golf wherein the fives are likely to be many and the fours few”.
Let’s fast-forward one hundred years… Golf at Deal is still very good indeed. In fact, the course is continuing to improve by dint of ongoing investment, hard work and Martin Ebert’s guidance. Even the critical golf course architecture cognoscenti agree.
One recent (2019) change can be savoured at the much-improved 16th which is now a par five with a split fairway. As a par four it was hard for the single digit golfer to approach this green with a long iron, and almost impossible to hold the green. Played as a three-shot hole, #16 now offers some respite when heading home into the prevailing wind.
For the latest course and turfgrass updates, visit Royal Cinque Ports greenkeeping blog.
It was a complete two day stay there as the previous day I had played Prince's and that morning Royal St George's, before driving a couple of miles to play my T-1 Open Venue (only missing Musselburgh Old) on a very nice afternoon with sun and the wind blowing pretty strong in the opposite direction to the usual one, which made the course play totally different. It is usually said that when you arrive to tee 12th with a decent score on the way you feel you have it done but not knowing the last 7 into the wind are brutal. This time we battled for 11 holes with the wind before playing the last 7 downwind, which in any way means they are easy!
As I arrived jsut little before my 3:30pm tee time after the round at St George's, I had no chance to experience much from the Club House just a quick drop to the ProShop to buy some ball markers as it was going to be closed when I finished and then off to the tee.
I had a great ball striking round, but both wind and putter put me +7 on 12th tee with double on 9 and triple on 11 which was disappointing. Got a coupleback for a very good 76 considering I carried my bag also in the morning and the wind was quite strong. The course is very challenging and you can take the hole yardages as reference, as some of them play much longer and some quite shorter, it usually depends on the line you take for the tee shot.
I will just try to figure out some of the best holes: par 5 3rd where the green is in a sort of hole with a much taller flag played a lot longer, not only due to wind but also to the many natural slopes the fairway has. Par 3 4th played not exactly into the wind but some across but it was one of the toughest. The other and last par 5 5th hole played a monster long, totally into the wind. Amazing 6th hole played longer with no chance of taking the shortcut to the green with the driver, hitting PW from 90 yds which is not usual! Par 4 7th showed 410yds in the GPS but played at least as 470! 8th is one of the nicest holes, with wind across we had to aim the tee shot way left to compensate the wind.
9th happened to be one of my nightmares, a good hit driver and a hybrid to a hole playing almost like 500yds! 10th tee shot with the unusual wind was quite tough, as you had to aim the deep rough and pray for the wind to let it come back. 11th killed me, not only wind but the cross bunker plus the rough on the righ plus my 29th hole of the day. Luckily I got some more energy to play the final holes where par 314th (225yds downwind) plus both 16-17 were the best holes, with very natural ondulated greens and tough to read putts.
The course was firm and fast, greens rolling extremely good and true and rough is playable just of line, but if you go wider the penalty will be one or more lost shots.
A nice afternoon, a 3hr round, a post round drink at the charming terrace enjoying the view made it a complete perfect day and just looking forward in time to complete the Open Rota in the near future.
Cinque Ports is a must play, both history and golf course will make you feel you are in one of the best places in the world. And the small town there is a good place for dinner after golf. Many usually think in Scotland as the first mandatory UK golf trip, but England has a team to compete with the Saltire. They are both different, but none lack of greatness.
The ground upon which Royal Cinque Ports covers appears to be relatively uninteresting at first view. It’s pretty flat, featureless and scrubby, and apart from the 4th through to the 7th, the sea is out of view due to the large sea wall that scales the length of the beach. But don’t let that fool you, the individual holes here all have character and the greens are the most impressive that I’ve played to date.
For what is a straight forward opener and not really indicative of the rest of the course, the crazy rollercoaster of a green gives you a sign of what’s to come. Honourable mentions also go to the green complexes on the 3rd and 12th, the latter with its wonderful valley green, like a skateboarder’s half-pipe.
Whilst the greens are superb, it’s the crumpled, lumpy duneland between 3 and 7 and back from 15 to 17 that provide most of the course’s charm. The fairways through this stretch of land roll like waves. Don’t expect an even bounce as your ball will ricochet back and forth through these holes like a pinball machine.
Whilst there are 7 or 8 first class holes on the course, two in particular stand out for me. The par 5 third is a great hole that’s split into three sections. The landing area for your drive is relatively flat with a dune crossing the fairway and a natural bunker set into one of those dunes protecting the hole from being overwhelmed by a long drive. The second section is the most pronounced of all of those lumpy sections across the whole course, in this section your ball will finish wherever the fairway topography decides it should go. The final section is a blind punchbowl of a green complex within which sits a wavy two-tiered green.
The other main highlight is the 16th. This is a long par 4 where you drive to the left of the concrete pillbox over two nostril bunkers towards another bumpy fairway. The green then sits perched above the surrounding land and you’ll need to carry over some intimidating swales and slopes to reach the putting surface.
You won’t go wrong with a day out at Deal, this is links golf at its most natural. And whilst there are going to be obvious comparisons with Royal St. George's (it doesn’t provide the same aura or prime duneland as its more famous neighbour), Royal Cinque Ports offers the perfect complement to Kent's main attraction for any visitor wishing to play golf in this area of the world.
I always enjoy my visits to play Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club at Deal, the Kentish town that the course is often referred to by name.
It’s an excellent links golf course that requires imagination and skill as well as distance and sound hitting. However, cunning is certainly the order of the day for the most part here. What I love most is that on a number of occasions after you have hit the ball it will disappear, behind a hump or into a hollow, only for it to reappear a few seconds later travelling in a completely different direction. How some of your recovery shots slowly unfold around the brilliant green complexes is a true joy.
It’s a golf course that has grown on me with multiple plays, in different wind directions, and I think it’s the sort of layout that needs this in order to gain a fuller understanding of it. I wasn't overly enthralled by it on my first play, which is a bit unusual because it actually delivers everything I love about links golf; quirk and challenge. Maybe I had my head in the clouds or perhaps it was because I played it straight on the back of playing its near neighbour; Royal St. George's. Either way I'm happy to be proved wrong on my original opinion.
After my first ever round here in 2014 I left Royal Cinque Ports not quite knowing what to make of it. I thought there were some unbelievably good holes but several that I wasn’t too sure about and wanted to have a second look at. Now I have had another chance to get to know this highly individual course I believe there is probably only the first (although it has a putting surface), the 10th, 11th and 18th that don't really bring much to the party. Every other hole is either exceptionally good or world-class.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The golf at Deal is a wonderful experience. History oozes in abundance as you inhale the stories of days gone by within your first few steps inside the clubhouse door. Thankfully, most things at RCP are old fashioned, even the style of golf you need to play along the ground in order to score.
Despite being on a mostly flat piece of land protected by an enormous sea-wall, there are many holes that roar with undulation! The shapers did a glorious job laying out the greens, which have been preserved to perfection over the decades. The club has added at least three new tees up on the sea wall which adds serious length, challenge and wonderful panoramic views.
This is a classic links that makes you earn every point you can as you go ‘out and back’. There is great anticipation of the epic closing 6-hole stretch as you turn in the prevailing wind. The par 4th 16th is among the greatest mid-length holes in all of golf requiring a preciously placed drive and a long iron into a raised undulating green. It’s one thrilling heroic shot after the next making RCP a beast!
The club has aspirations of hosting major events, which would be a great decision by the R&A. There are greens at RCP you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and it was a true honour to play this shining jewel along the English Channel.
Played on a lovely sunny day with the prevailing wind blowing which was “with” on most of the front 9. As a result shot level par front and 12 over back. Some wonderful holes including:- 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 15 and 18. Front 9 is more scenic, the back 9 is more interesting. A really good golf course.
Proximity to great courses can get you noticed -- but it can also provide a large shadow for those facilities providing top tier golf offerings too.
Consider the southeast coast of England. To be specific - the immediate Sandwich area.
The 800-pound gorilla is a multiple host for The Open Championship -- Royal St. George's. The club remains a favorite with the R&A and although no future event has been announced there's little question the closest links facility to London will likely be included given its brilliant routing, fascinating land features and infrastructure.
Amazingly, literally no more than 5-10 minutes is another club -- one that hosted two Opens years ago - and which deserves a good bit of attention as well.
Royal Cinque Ports -- more commonly known as Deal to those locally -- is a very solid test of golf. While I am not a fan of traditional "out and back" layouts because of the one-dimensional nature of such routings it's hard to highlight any major deficiency with the variety of holes encountered here.
The land clearly doesn't possess the dunes like elements one sees with Royal St. George's but Deal is blessed with a range of different lies throughout the round. It's not as harsh with the fairway bounces as its next door neighbor -- but there's never a dull moment either as the player must find the proper angle into the putting surfaces and much of that deals with securing relatively flat lies for approach shots.
Deal starts with a fairly similar hole to starter at The Old Course -- except the opener here is about 40 yards longer and generally plays into the prevailing wind. The key is getting off the tee with a quality play -- because if the pin is cut tight to the very front the ditch that needs to be carried has to be treated with utmost care.
The bulk of the outward half of holes plays in the same direction -- and players will likely have the wind with them on most days. Being able to score effectively on the front nine is crucial for reasons I will explain shortly.
The par-5 3rd is a delight to play with its bowl-shaped green and its artfully crafted fairway which calls upon top tier execution if one is to go for the green in two shots. The short 4th provides a birdie opportunity but nothing is given away without a solid approach. Ditto the qualities of the 356-yard dog-leg right 6th which presents a bold playing route for those who dare -- just realize while the reward can be great the risk is equally present for those not up to the task.
Holes 7 and 9 smartly have back tee positions placed on the top of the sea wall that serves as the main protection against the English Channel which has at times flooded portions of the course.
After one plays the 10th the real teeth of Deal becomes ever apparent. The prevailing wind which aided the player for the bulk of the outward journey then flips completely around into one's face starting at the 11th which also features a back tee position on the sea wall.
The back nine has no par-5 holes yet still plays over 3,700 yards. There are five par-4's that play no less than 455 yards along with a especially demanding long par-3 at the 14th which is listed at 221 yards but can easily be a full driver when the situation is called upon.
One of the best long par-4's in England comes at the 16th. At just under 500 yards the pressures placed on any player can be daunting. The green is not very big and there's sufficient contour to thwart the reckless putter. The concluding two holes are well done in terms of differentiation. The par-4 17th features excellently placed cross bunkers that must be thoroughly respected. The home hole turns slightly in the drive zone and the green is slightly elevated so approach shots will need to be appropriately played to get all the way to the target.
The key at Deal is solid driving -- there's no way around it for any score of note to be achieved. During my round the wind was on the gentle side but I can only imagine when Mother Nature opts for more sterner stuff.
In addition, the movement and contours of the land in and around the putting surfaces provides for a range of different lies, stances and challenges to overcome.
When playing Royal Cinque Ports remember one thing plainly -- there will be no "Deal" provided unless you earn it. A quality no nonsense design through and through.
by M. James Ward
Great review, James. Royal Cinque Ports is just one of many fine courses in Kent. Since your review, Royal St George's has been chosen as the host venue for The Open Championship in 2020 - the 15th time 'Sandwich' will have hosted the major.
Visited Sept 16 as part of a "birthday treat" .
VERY impressed - the pro shop were friendly and helpful as were the bar staff after.
The course looks awesome (with great views of it from the Clubhouse) and - especially when you play it in a stiff breeze like we did - plays awesome too !!
Some great holes and not an easy course I would suspect even if you do catch it on a calm day.
Condition excellent and easy to see why it commands the position in the rankings it does.
Left a few balls behind (!!) BUT picked up substantially more (all pro v's) than I lost so that was a bonus !!
CLASSIC TRUE LINKS - hope to get back there soon !?!?
Played on a cloudless day, and I played pretty well, so those things certainly help, but this is a special place. There's a great feeling of anticipation playing downwind on the front 9, knowing there's a serious test coming your way when you turn for home. The last 7 holes are indeed brutal, but not unfairly so, and the rough all the way round was not so penal as to not be able to find your ball. It's much more beautiful than I thought it might be and if I could only play one of the great links in this part of the world again, I think this just knocks Royal St George's of its perch. Both wonderful though!
Played this classic links on 2/8/16, and what a delight it was. The round was preceded by a morning's 18 at Princes, and pleasant though it was,the 18 here surpassed it many times over.
Adjectives that spring to mind are; exciting, beautiful, immaculate, inspiring, challenging... I could go on, but if you are ever in this part of the world, be sure to make a trip down the lanes to Deal; it is a wonderful golfing experience. LB.
I realise that I never actually reviewed this before after playing a few years ago, but offered the comment that we were made to feel knee high to a worm when hauled off the practice range and made to pay over the odds for knee high socks that I have never used again, and then moved out to the balcony to finish our lunch due to a complaint from an ex captain due to our wearing shorts with the said long socks !
This could have given the wrong impression of the course, since it is one of those courses that are approached at ground level and appear underwhelming and straight forward.
We played in calm, dry Summer conditions yet it only took about half a hole before we were emphatically disabused of our pre conceptions! Everything that a Links lover would seek - raised seaside tee boxes, blind shots, big fast undulating greens and that indefinable feel of Quality.
Don't miss it, truly excellent, and taken with RSG and Princes this is a one the great places to play golf in England and if you stay in Deal rather than Sandwich (very pretty but dull), a great night out ! If you can eke out the trip to write to and play Rye too I think it's better than the similarly priced England's Golf Coast (TM) in Lancashire .